Sunday, 22 March 2020

Lachrimæ Caravaggio - Savall

There’s a record the presentation of which is not that simple, to say the least it’s extremely complicated. 
Why? It might turn out. 
Where should I start to make it clear avoiding sheer contemplation in art history? I can’t do it short and sweet, hardly in length either …

The following idea has several upbeats and interpretations; let’s start the question from afar.

What makes our fav records sound fine?
Surely, the loads of answers have one common point - the frequently referred ‘synergy’. When the pieces of equipment ‘love’ each other as well as the room they’re in and the music and our current state of our mind; when that certain feeling of unison is borne, which is pretty much the same as at a very good concert of living music in a church. This is very important especially with Early Music for it’s music of pure ideas and intense doctrine of harmonies. It’s an encoded, multilayer thing like multi-strata wines; we get something of the flavour at the first sip but the genuine entirety lightens up if we can place it into unity.

From this point on, however, this magical Unison has become much gappy by today; the churches have collapsed, the paintings have been scattered about, what’s left is hidden in museums; many private components have got lost, the world has undergone a vast change. We’re listening to this music, turning the pages of the booklet, trying to jailbreak the code or at least a fragment of it.
Wonderful attempts exist to musically restore the lost harmonies; the really successful Early Music recordings practically do it precisely. One of them which tries to open a broader horizon than the ordinary is Lachrimae Caravaggio.

It’s rather a project as the record is not merely a CD but a lot more. The booklet abounds in Caravaggio reproes and relatively many texts on art history and music theory, which slowly reveals what all this is about.

It all started with an exhibition in Spain, more exactly in Catalonia, Barcelona where Caravaggio’s ‘great’ paintings were collected.

This painter genius who had an adventurous and tragic life - you should read about him - lived in a period when the music Savall is interested in bloomed indeed; I do not mean the Brandenburg Concertos of course….:) 
Savall is Catalonian, he must have several fav cafes in Barcelona so the context is clear.

The writer Dominique Fernandez selected seven Caravaggio paintings; this became the seven stanzias. He wrote mini studies to each of them and Savall ‘composed’ the music onto them also in a division of seven. Practically, Goethe’s frequently quoted presumption was taken literally, namely, “Basso continuo can be found in paintings just like in music”.

Therefore, the music is a contemporary play of Savall; it is contemporary yet remained in the system of Early Music, what’s more, it is in secret harmony with the paintings.
Even language uses the word ‘harmony’ which is a synonym of accordance anyway.

The beautiful [Hungarian] tongue of ours too drifted with time, i.e., ‘harmony’ isn’t the right word, we’d better say that we’re trying to understand that paintings and music are the same, they’re one, they’re not told apart in a way we’re dissembling them 500 years later. 
It’s all-world rather than a matrix of different contexts.

It’s the Unity of Existence itself. 
Do you remember? Like when we see and visualise face to face.
It’s fairly complex, isn’t it?

Well-known melodies too are coming up; is it not a Savall piece after all? Yes and not because he did the same method as the composers in the 1500s - he inserted contemporary fashionable melodies and structures. 
Which of them? For instance, here we have Kapsberger’s Passacaglia whose beauty is flowing in waves into us. 

We come across Rossi’s Lamento or Trabaci’s infamous piece, Consonance Stravagante which is like a nice collection of question marks with its dissonant fineness; it suits here quite well. The base melody from which Cantus Firmus was born determines the whole record; in [Hungarian] folk music we say that it’s the wonderful re-entrant, well, we don’t know who composed it -  must be Savall’s - but it is absolutely magnificent.

The story runs along the paintings, the frame is the Holy Scripture itself and the language is the music. He uses the same colours as Caravaggio; the thousands of hues of black are especially striking; the lower gamba-voices are extremely colour-blacks; this, in another dimension, sets the entire plot into motion; the piece lacks lyrics, which weaves these nonverbal arcs even tighter.

The summits are nice, the relentless return of Cantus Firmus gives a different rhythm, an inevitable sub-monotony which is fragmented by the nice and familiar melodies in vain; rather, their fragile mortality is perceived. 

The analogies are multi-layered, there’re loads of question marks, perhaps the answers are there; when listening to it for the first time there will be rather a sort of wandering …

The instrumentation is beautiful: violas, chordophones, lute and harp jointly, cembalo and percussion, those weird twisted wind instruments - a complete Early Music arsenal.

Before the Reconquista, in the golden years of the early Cordoba Kalifates a handy dyer could dye 50 sorts of black.
The 7th string of the violas - the 7 Stanzias - the 7 times 7 hues of black  - build the pack of presumed or real nexuses...

And there is some shocking honesty. 
No-one but Caravaggio dared to paint so dirty legs. He collected his models in the street - the faces of prostitutes and tramps or unschooled peasants at best watch us from the paintings of elevated themes. The light-shadow effects of the paintings broke away from the old schools; strangely, the predominance of his multicolour black radiate more and more brightness. After his early death no-one ever painted this way, not even similarly.

It’s Early Music and it’s not, it’s simple and it’s not, it’s contemporary and it’s not. 
It’s multicolour and multi-layered.
It’s far from easy. What’s more, the paintings show lots of drama - death, passing, tears - it is Lachrimea Caravaggio indeed. The common point is that all these do not happen in vain, we can immediately see and hear that there’s going to be elevation, ecstasy (more precisely Assumption), salvation and sacrifice. 
Complicated underlying content, intense metaphysics.

And some weird meditative drifting.

However, Savall wouldn’t moan about the fact that the System had fallen apart or the world had changed because he happens to mention that the CD technology was necessary to take the music to us in this way and, for instance, the fact that the quality of the Caravaggio reproes in the booklet was simply not accomplishable even some 25 years ago.
We might add that anyone making such a record wasn’t accomplishable either …

The reception of the record was almost exactly like this:

The profs seem unable to step out of their own nerdyness or see a bit bigger circles.
Many of us, however, who like it are keen.

How about you?

I’m somewhat fond of copied/downloaded records but it’s worth now to make an exception because of the paintings and the text so I recommend to obtain the original SACD. You should borrow it for at least a few days. 
If you can’t then because of computer-listening you’d better watch the paintings on screen.

The sound quality is the usual very good AliaVox sound; even on hi-res SACD edition; here we bump into the issue of Unity again; Savall and his company have respected the spirituality rather than the acoustics of the place from the beginnings; they frequented the place to make the recordings.

A nice cathedral, Château De Cardona, they’re sitting somewhere inside on old chairs with striped upholstery and they’re making the next record... or exactly this one maybe… they may have a break right now, Savall is just changing the G string of his viola da gamba Zanetti from 1550s; the trumpeter and the harpist are smoking at the window… they’re recalling the lunch - how delicious the sofregit was today - and they may recall the green eyes of the waitress too…

But deep inside, in their souls, this music and some special celeste black shine have been all around them as long as they’ve been making this recording.

Translated by Kenesei Andrea

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Thank you for the images.